Animal Physical Therapy Schools and Training

Learn About Animal Therapists and Animal Massage Therapy Careers

animal physical therapy school training with a dog

Just as increasing numbers of people are seeking out alternative treatment methods, many animal owners are also turning to healing therapies that complement traditional veterinary medicine. Animal physical therapy schools can lead to a rewarding career improving the health of our furry companions using many of the same natural therapeutic modalities that humans find effective, from acupuncture to animal massage therapy.

Sometimes animal therapy training is confused with Animal Assisted Therapy, which is the use of animals to assist in the healing of human patients with chronic diseases or other conditions. This article will look at training and careers in the healing of animals themselves.

Career Overview

Animal therapy practitioners generally fall into two categories:

  • Veterinary specialists who have been trained in alternative healing methods for animals.
  • Natural healers who are also trained in using similar techniques on people. They work with pets, service animals, livestock, and racing or performance animals such as horses and dogs.

Veterinarians with animal therapy training incorporate therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine or chiropractic along with modern medical approaches. In contrast, dedicated animal therapists may have initially trained in a particular natural healing modality such as biofeedback or flower essences before going on to specialize in animals.

Training and Education

What You'll Study in Animal Therapy School

The focus of your animal therapy training will vary depending on whether you're studying veterinary medicine or alternative healing. Veterinary students may take elective courses in alternative methods of healing, such as herbal medicine. If, on the other hand, you're studying a specific field of natural health like massage, you might choose to take courses in animal massage therapy, and learn about animal anatomy and massage techniques.

Average Animal Therapist Length of Study

Veterinary college requires 4 years of graduate school leading to a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. A veterinary technician usually holds a 2-year associate degree or 4-year bachelor's degree. Natural health programs vary widely in length. Massage therapists may be able to finish in as little as a few months, while chiropractic study usually takes 4 years.

Average Animal Therapist Tuition

Tuition for animal therapy school depends on whether you're attending a veterinary medicine program or a natural health school, whether you're paying in-state or out-of-state tuition, and how long the program is. Veterinary school can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 per year. Beginning courses in animal therapy can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, while a chiropractic degree may cost as much as $20,000.

Animal Therapy Certification

Veterinarians must be licensed to practice in any of the 50 states. Certification requirements vary for animal therapists, depending on state laws governing specific therapeutic practices. Some practices may not be regulated, and in those cases, certification may be voluntary.

Career Outlook

Alternative medicine is not just gaining favor with pet owners seeking a more holistic way of caring for their animals, it's also becoming more popular in fields such as conservation and livestock production. This is good news for anyone thinking about animal therapy training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, veterinarians can expect a 12 percent growth rate in their field, veterinary technologists and technicians can expect 30 percent job growth, and massage therapists a 23 percent growth rate.

Animal Therapist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2014-15 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for veterinarians is $84,460, while veterinary technologists and technicians earned an average of $30,290. Massage therapists earned $35,970. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.

Sources: American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, University of Wyoming: Dept. of Veterinary Sciences, International Alliance for Animal Therapy and Healing, National Academy of Massage Therapy and Healing Science, Therapet Foundation.